The people are dressed in their finest. The best food and drink available are spread on white tablecloths while rats scurry underfoot. The feasters invite Lucy to join them. “It’s the last supper,” they say, hoisting a glass, knowing that they will soon die of the plague. This is one of the most powerful scenes in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. It’s October and we’re in the midst of a plague. The wealthy retain their fortunes while the poor die in the streets. Do I really need to explain why someone so focused on religion and social justice finds horror films as able conversation partners? My two books that relate to the topics don’t come outright and say it, but there are spiritual lessons to be learned here.
Genre is a convenient, perhaps even necessary, means of making sense of the vast creative output of humankind. We write fiction, poems, and songs. We film movies. We produce these forms of entertainment at a stunning rate, especially when we consider the large number of pieces made that never find official publication. Genre helps us sort through—this is like that, etc. Still, some of my favorite pieces of literature, and movies, don’t really fit into neat genre divisions. Take Herzog’s Nosferatu. There are definitely horror elements here, but it is also an art film. Some scenes, like that described above, are suffused with religious meaning. When circumstances align correctly we can see it and say, “ah, now I understand.” That was what came to me recently. I haven’t seen the movie for years, but circumstances with Covid-19 brought it to mind.
October is a month of poetry and transitions. We turned the furnace on only to find ourselves in the midst of a string of days reaching near 70. The cerulean sky which looks so different this time of year suddenly disappeared with nearly a week of heavy cloud cover. There’s beauty in the daytime and monsters in the night. Outside lurks a plague. Lacking the willpower to overcome it, people are growing weary of the restrictions. We’re not used to being locked up. The thing about the last supper is that life goes on even after it’s over. Changed, yes, but October is all about change. We’re anxious, wondering if it was indeed a vampire that bit us. Meanwhile the leaves continue their journey from green to yellow, orange, and red, their litter becoming the food for next year’s growth. Yes, there are spiritual lessons here.